Stanley Jones Eulogy by Matthew Jones

Mar 09, 2023

Tribute to John Stanley Jones
10 June 1933 – 10 February 2023

Who knew that the boy born on 10th June 1933 in the northern industrial town of Wigan, the son of an engine driver, would grow up to become an internationally-revered figure in the world of collaborative fine art print-making? And yet, it nearly didn’t happen. With a birth weight of some 12 lbs, his was a very complicated delivery. He was lucky to survive the brutal use of forceps, and the trauma left him permanently blind in one eye. All the more remarkable, then, that he achieved in life what he did.
John Stanley Jones, known to everyone as Stanley, was born into a loving and supportive family: his parents George and Elizabeth, and his older brother Eric.
His early life at 15 Shaw Street exposed him to an urban landscape characterised by industrial decline and dereliction. Some would find this bleak, but to Dad, who showed a distinct talent for sketching and painting from an early age, these dark and decaying surroundings were a source of artistic inspiration.
As a scholarship boy at Wigan Grammar School, he studied the full spectrum of subjects, but it was clear where his heart lay, and he later enrolled at Wigan Art School, where he had his first introduction to lithography. A kind neighbour, Jack Hall, gave him free use of an abandoned workshop to be his studio, and this gave Dad a gloomy but enigmatic space for undisturbed work and reflection.
His talents later secured him a place at the Slade School of Fine Art, part of University College London, and in 1954 he began a 2 year course, but with an uncertain prospect as he only had funding for the first year. Here began his real focus on print-making, inspired by Ceri Richards, and he emerged with a Diploma with a special commendation for lithography.
But his path forward from here was far from clear, and the family was concerned as to what the future held. However, the head of the Slade, Bill Coldstream, suggested that Dad move to Paris to deepen his training in lithography. Funded by two scholarships found for him by the Slade, Dad duly left for Paris in the Autumn of 1956. Imagine the boy from Wigan, hardly speaking any French and never having been abroad, arriving in Paris, fresh off the boat train, and being thrust into the electrifying buzz of the Quartier Saint-Germain-des-Près and its vibrant nightlife!
Having enrolled at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to study lithography part-time, he was introduced by Bill Hayter to the young printer Gérard Patris of the Atelier Patris in Montparnasse. Patris’ lifestyle might be termed ‘colourful and complicated’, but Patris took Dad under his wing and what began as an apprenticeship soon became a friendship. Moreover, it was an apprenticeship not only in the process and practice of lithography, but also in working with other artists and helping them realise their images in print form. It was this combination of skills that was to become the making of Dad. Indeed, these were formative times for him. He became acquainted with Giacometti, he worked with artists such as Soulages, Severini and Sugai, and he was also very much involved in stimulating the growing interest of the School of Paris in lithography.
However, money was forever tight, and Dad would send home parcels of laundry to his mother. With his scholarships due to run dry in January 1957, he was luckily taken on full- time by Patris who by then recognised his value.
Yet fate had other ideas. Robert Erskine, whose ambition as a publisher and gallery-owner was to create a facility in England in which British artists could produce lithographs to the same professional standard as was then possible in Europe and the US, travelled to Paris in late 1957 to make Dad an offer: would he return to the UK and establish a lithographic studio under the auspices of the Curwen Press? The promise was to convert some former stables in Plaistow, in East London, to house the project.
Leaving Paris and Patris must have been a tough call for Dad, but he could also see the bigger prize: a unique opportunity to realise his ambition to put collaborative print-making firmly on the map in Britain.
And so it was. However, there was another wrinkle. The Plaistow premises would take some time to be made ready, and so Robert Erskine arranged for Dad to lead a short-term ‘pilot’ project in St Ives in Cornwall producing lithographs for artists including Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron and Peter Lanyon. This project alone would yield an output of graphic work that was to become highly regarded.
The Plaistow studio opened in 1958 at 32A St Mary’s Road. As it became established and gained traction and reputation in its early years, an opportunity arose to move to larger premises in London’s West End, and so in 1965 the Curwen Studio was relocated to a substantial basement in Midford Place, just off Tottenham Court Road.
I have distinct memories of visits to Midford Place as a young child. The first things to greet you were unfamiliar smells: machine oil, ink, printing paper, gum arabic, nitric acid, French chalk, turpentine, Swarfega, old Bert's tobacco smoke, and the occasional waft of egg and chips from the extractor fan of the Italian cafe above.
Then came that cacophony of sounds: the clanking and hissing of the monolithic Ratcliff flatbed printing press, brooding in its own chamber; people shouting to be heard over the din of its operation; and, when it rested, the sound of the sticky resistance of inked leather being rolled over stone.
And then finally, the sights: a dimly-lit and unpromising entrance hall, then a heavy door swinging open onto a furnace of light rising from the basement below, making the vertiginous granite spiral steps sparkle; piles of proofs; stacks of printing paper; off-cuts everywhere; litho stones the size of tombstones; bendy zinc plates; bottles of glutinous inks; all manner of chemicals; spatulas for mixing colours; ink-rollers; cast-iron presses and other heavy machinery; arched and cobwebbed alcoves for working in, or for storing printing paraphernalia; a vast stone sink for washing lithographic plates; the printing crew nursing, feeding and coaxing the grand old editioning press with a mixture of curses and reverence; the recessed skylights up to the pavements of Tottenham Court Road above, the passing footsteps oblivious to the creative crucible below; and those terrible toilets!
This was Dad's world, and at that age I understood barely any of it. All I knew was that it was a place where Serious Things Got Done. Indeed John Betjeman, who used to visit the studio to watch artists at work, aptly described what he witnessed there as ‘artistic alchemy’.
This is not the time or place to attempt to describe all of the remarkable artistic achievements that emerged from that basement studio over its 24 years of operation. I think the most compelling testament to these that I can offer today is the simple metric of just how many renowned artists Dad collaborated with. I wouldn’t normally just read out a list, but in this case I know of no other way because, quite simply, the list speaks for itself. So here it is (in no particular order, and by no means exhaustive):
Ceri Richards, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, John Piper, Elizabeth Frink, David Hockney, Alan Davie, Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon, Patrick Procktor, Mary Fedden, Elizabeth Blackadder, Josef Herman, Graham Sutherland, James Rosenquist, Allen Jones, Bryan Organ, Reg Butler, William Scott, Terry Frost, Edward Bawden, David Gentleman, Bernard Leach, Lynn Chadwick, Prunella Clough, Bernard Dunstan, Man Ray, Duncan Grant, Richard Deacon, Victor Pasmore, Ken Kiff, Philip Sutton, Tracey Emin,Kyffyn Williams, Basil Beattie and Paula Rego.
I could of course go on, but, don’t worry, I won’t. And there were also some more surprising collaborations, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono (whose work was so explicit that it was subsequently banned from exhibition), and, much later, a project with our (then) future King - one that raised millions of pounds for the Prince’s Trust.
Such was the growing reputation of the Curwen Studio that, in April 1977, Tate Britain held an exhibition entitled ‘Artists at Curwen’, celebrating a gift of Curwen prints to the national archives, and Pat Gilmour published her book of the same title.
But, despite all of this success, the studio could not escape commercial realities, and when its basement lease expired and could not be renewed, the lack of suitable and affordable premises in Central London threatened its very existence. Its survival was ensured only by Sam Alper’s offer of a large barn at Chilford Hall near Cambridge and so, in 1989, the lights were turned off for the last time at Midford Place, the Ratcliff press was retired, and the studio’s operations moved out of town, following which there were many more successful years of collaboration and production for Dad and the studio.
A further Tate Britain exhibition, this time celebrating Curwen Studio’s 50th anniversary, was held in 2008, acknowledging the studio’s ‘crucial role in the evolution of C20th British Art’, and was again accompanied by a book - Alan Powers’ history of Curwen, entitled ‘Art and Print: The Curwen Story’.
From the inception of the Curwen Studio in 1958, Dad also lectured in lithography at the Slade on a part-time basis, and indeed did so for 40 years until he retired from the role. During this time, he was tutor and mentor to an enormous number of students, some of whom went on to become successful artists and print-makers themselves.
Over time, Dad became increasingly aware of the importance of creating a lasting legacy in order to promote and preserve the skills and practices of traditional lithography. In 2000, he and Sam Alpers established the Curwen Print Study Centre, a charitable trust with the mission of providing print-making tuition to all. Dad was passionate about this cause, most recently taking delight in its new premises at Thurlow in Suffolk, and devotedly holding the role of Life President until his death.
He enjoyed wide recognition for his achievements:
in 1999 he was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters by the University of Southampton; 

in 2005, the British Library recorded over 20 hours of interviews with him for the 
national archive; 

in 2008, he was awarded a MBE, a family day at the Palace that Liza and I will never 

his own work is held in major collections and public galleries around the world, including 
the Tate; 

‘Essex Landscape’ which you see here today, sitting on Dad’s own easel from his Wigan 
days, was a prize-winning work from 1962; 

he was profiled on BBC Radio 4 in 2012 with the programme ‘The Print Master’; 

he was president, and one of the original founders, of the Printmakers’ Council; 

he was the co-inventor of continuous-tone printing, which transformed the depth and 
clarity of lithographic images; and 

he had two books published, and featured in many others.
As a master lithographer, he was the embodiment of collaborative print-making, with his exceptional knowledge of colour being considered a particular technical strength. But what was the true essence of his incredible success? Robert Erskine called him ‘a skilled mediator between artist and stone’. I think this may be too narrow. To satisfy the needs of his artist 
‘client’, not only did he have to excel in lithographic processes, graphic skills, experimentation and innovation, so as to bring credibility, he also needed an abundance of kindness, reliability, patience, understanding, tact and empathy. He needed to be counsellor, critical friend, guide, teacher and enabler. And, crucially, sometimes he even needed to suppress his own ego in order to allow the artist to feel that their latent print-making skills were merely being unlocked by Dad, rather than being learned from him. He needed to be able to balance guidance with prescription, and to mix diplomacy with directness.
He had to cope with many different modalities of collaboration too - some artists would be in the studio, needing constant attention and support, while others preferred working partially or entirely remotely from the studio.
And, finally, there is temperament: history is replete with artists whose brilliance has cast a shadow - the magnificence of their artistic accomplishments has exacted a price in the form of (or - some might say – has been fuelled by) personal torment, relationship casualties or other human frailties. Not so with Dad. In this sense, he broke the mould. Many of the condolence messages we’ve received attest to this - one referred to ‘the Stanley fan club’ and other descriptions of him include ‘a blue-print for humanity’, that he had ‘something of the monk’ about him, or simply that he was a ‘thoroughly decent bloke’. He was universally loved and admired - I have never heard a harsh word said about him by anyone. And that alone is some achievement.
So that was Dad, the professional artist and printmaker. What of Dad, the family man?
I’d have to start with his devotion to Mum. They were inseparable, enjoying 61 years of happy and loving marriage. They were totally compatible, and in particular Mum knew that being married to an artist would mean giving Dad time and space for his work, which she gladly did. Cyril Connolly once said ‘There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.’ But that did not apply in our house! Somehow the pursuit of artistic endeavour and the discharge of family obligations were reconciled, rather than compromised, and indeed he was a wonderfully loving and supportive father to Liza and me.
We’ll remember him as a rock, principled but not judgmental, generous of spirit, measured, gentle, polite, and always setting an example, including through his strong work ethic, though occasionally dogged in argument (or maybe that was us?).
On the lighter side, we’ll remember him as an inveterate hoarder, ranging from cameras and camera equipment to paper and pens, and even to Wright’s Coal Tar Soap! He loved classical music, and was an avid radio listener – if it wasn’t music on Radio 3, then it was the cricket. I’ll remember with great fondness the last time he and I attended a concert together to listen to one of his, and our, favourite works – Bach’s St Matthew Passion - which is why its opening chorus is being played at the closing of today’s service.
He had a passion for Land Rovers, owning several over the years, and was never happier than when ensconced in the South Shropshire Hills with the family and our beloved dog Sheba, painting, drawing and photographing the ever-changing landscape and shifting light. It was my privilege to trudge up the hill behind him on photography expeditions as his sherpa, although I was only ever entrusted with the tripod, not the Leica. These were summer outings, but he wore polo necks and thick tweed jackets with lots of pockets, and carried the prized Leica in a leather briefcase, a sartorial style that often raised an eyebrow from passers- by on the windswept hillside.
His Christmas rum sauce was as legendary as it was potent, and his handwriting was admired by all as a thing of beauty, although not always as legible as it might have been! He was a great one for habit and routine, and perhaps his most endearing and consistent behavioural quirk was his insistence on touching a bar of soap before he left the house. We never really bottomed that one out!
As children, when deserving of some chastisement, we would often find it delivered partly in Northern phrases, such as ‘that’ll larn ya’, ‘think on’t’ and ‘mark my words’.
When our patience was required for some treat, it would be ‘all in good time’. Often this was because he was about to disappear into some part of the house to paint or draw: we grew up with a cellar full of printing presses and mangles, as well as a dark room for his photography, and a loft full of paints, brushes and reams of paper.
As to his personal philosophies, first, regarding art, with his preference for non-figurative images he was a great believer in art’s impact at the level of individual perception. I think he would endorse Paul Klee’s sentiment that ‘Art does not reproduce what we see; rather, it makes us see’. And also perhaps T. Allen Lawson’s view that ‘Art is the space between the viewer and the rectangle that hangs on the wall’.
Secondly, regarding travel, with the possible exceptions of Shropshire and Venice, his repeated travel-sceptic mantra was that ‘the whole world is in your back garden’.
He was deeply contemplative, and practised his Christian faith throughout his life, from his non-conformist beginnings in Wigan – attending the local Baptist church and his Methodist primary school – to his many years as a congregation member and sidesman at St Barnabas Church in Woodford Green.
So let me conclude with some broader reflections on Dad’s life.
Like so many who achieve great things, it was the result of a unique and unreplicable collision of rare talent, passion, persistence, temperament, opportunity and
serendipity. There are of course two aspects to opportunity: how we make it, and what we make of it. He excelled at both.
His success and reputation were enduring and accretive, continuing to build on a compound basis throughout his life. No flash in the pan, our Dad.
He has left a clear and remarkable legacy, having placed lithography at the heart of modern art, not just in Britain but around the world too. Measured at the professional level, his legacy is vast and internationally recognised. Through his artistic collaborations, as well as his own work, he delivered a prodigious output, the like of which we will never see
again. Once described as the ‘Godfather of Lithography’, he was quite literally a legend in his own lifetime. But I would take things up a level further, and view his total legacy as a person - artist, printmaker and family man. Again, here he set the bar at a level to which most of us can only aspire.
He never formally retired as an artist, yet, in his later years, as Mum’s dementia took hold, he became her primary carer, until he too needed support. I’ll always remember the poignancy of their final parting, as Mum left for hospital for the last time, leaving Dad to go into care without her. It is comforting to know they are now reunited in death, exactly as they would have wished.
Liza and I and our families have immense pride in his accomplishments, both professional and personal.
While we’re here today to celebrate Dad’s life, we’re also desperately sad at the loss - in such quick succession - of both our parents. Indeed, it’s only 2 months to the day since I last stood here, and Dad sat there. Where once there were hugs or the holding of hands, suddenly there’s an empty space; where once there were regular chats or calls, now there’s an interminable silence.
So, Dad: as John Steinbeck wrote, ‘It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.’ But we are so glad that you did shine, and that we were privileged enough to be illuminated by just some of that bright light.
We wish you safely on your journey now, forever reunited with Mum, hand-in-hand together, in eternal peace and happiness.
God bless you, and thank you so much for everything.

Matthew Jones
Greenacres, 9 March 2023